Talk about thinking outside the box! When was the last time you saw a first-gen Camaro powered by a Duramax Diesel? It all started in 1970 when Dustin Hamm’s parents took ownership of this 1967 Chevrolet Camaro and campaigned an impressive street racing career throughout the ’70s. Fast forward to now, it is plumbed and powered with a 6.6-liter LBZ Duramax engine making gobs of horsepower and torque. Crazy idea, right? Here is how it all went down.
I sat down with Hamm to discuss the upbringing of this diesel-swapped classic, and like you, probably already knew, this was powered by a healthy gas engine at one time. Hamm explained how his father worked at a machine shop where he prepared a 327ci engine for it and backed it up with a Muncie M21 four-speed transmission.
Where We Started
Fast forward 35 years, and we’ve gone from one extreme to the other. “The Camaro had been parked since the 1980s — since it wasn’t exactly a family car. It sat outside, getting weathered for so long, it inevitably took a toll on the exterior of the car,” Hamm said. “In 2005, I purchased the car from my mom as a project. It was a high school graduation project for my class of 2006.”
Spending the year fixing up the car, Hamm also outfitted the Camaro with a 600-horsepower World Products Motown 454ci small-block engine and had the four-speed rebuilt to handle it. “After this, I was hooked on horsepower,” Hamm said. “After graduation, I drove it all summer like that. I had a blast with it too.”
In October of 2006, once the rainy season started up, Hamm made the decision to completely redo the car. He wanted to tear it down to nothing and restore the body. The rust had gotten so bad that it had to go. At the time, while he was working at a local body shop (Western Auto Body), he gained knowledge on how to repair cars like this.
Hamm knew he could apply the knowledge he gathered over these years for his own project, which made things pretty easy. Unfortunately, that isn’t how this story goes. “I had the experience to do the job, but after having the body acid-dipped to completely remove the old paint, bondo, and rust, what was revealed was not good,” Hamm explained.
“The previous repair work that had been done before my parents owned the car was poor. I thought I would be doing some preparation and paintwork, but the car needed replacement panels all it required some extensive work.”
Once Hamm realized how bad of shape this car was in, he felt overwhelmed — as he should. Preparing a solid panel for painting is much easier than cutting out and replacing entire panels. “Not only was I not knowledgeable enough to know how to fix it, but I also wasn’t financially prepared to fix it either. So, the car just sat on my rotisserie in my mom’s garage for six years,” Hamm said.
How We Got Here
We’ve figured out where the Camaro came from, but how did it go from a high-horsepower gas engine to a diesel engine? Hamm explained that during the six-year period of the Camaro being torn down his brother-in-law bought a 12-valve Cummins. This really opened Hamm’s eyes to the power of diesel performance. “My god was it crazy fast. I wondered how the hell a full-size 4×4 pickup truck could be that fast,” Hamm exclaimed.
This was a huge turning point for Hamm and his performance career because he realized how cool modifying diesel engines can be. Shortly after his 12-valve experience, he bought one of his own and began tinkering on it. “I was enthralled with how amazing diesel engines really are. It made me think what my possibilities were when putting one of these engines into my Camaro. Once those wheels started turning, the vision for the car started to roll out,” Hamm said.
The search was on for a powerplant and transmission, and like most of us, Hamm searched Craigslist. Sure enough, he found a 6.6-liter LBZ Duramax engine in one ad and a transmission that mated to it in another. Once he had these items in hand, it was all hands on deck. The urge to have his car completed was in full force, and now, six years later, Hamm developed the skills necessary to fix those panels the Camaro needed.
“By now, I had a good idea how to repair the body. I made a deal with my boss to keep the car at the body shop while I rebuilt it. I bought two quarter-panels, a rocker panel, and a tail panel. Once I had all of these panels replaced, I bought a back half kit. My brother in law helped me fabricate the rear chassis and install it into the car. I cut the stock floor out and fitted the rear clip,” Hamm said.
Resorting to Craigslist again, Hamm found the next piece of the puzzle. A Fab9 rear differential and four-link suspension kit for dirt cheap. Once Hamm and Co. got the new parts fabbed into place, they ended up with a product that was much more solid and trustworthy versus the old factory components.
Next on the list was the new rear floor, wheel tubs, and a roll cage. “The roll cage was a little challenging — cutting and notching all of the tubing myself was a lot, but I got it done. After the cage was in, the rear floor metal was installed and the wheel tubs followed. With the chassis basically done, it was time for the fun part. Fitting an engine that has no business in this car.
With homemade mounts and bushed, DOM sleeves, Hamm mocked up this monster Duramax engine and transmission. “We must have had that engine and transmission in and out dozens of times getting the fitment just right,” he said. “I also had Aaron Davis of Davis Fabrication & Ornamental Design modify and weld up the oil pan for me too. The front sump had to be machined off so the engine would ride low enough to allow the hood to close.”
Initially, oil pan clearance was basically nothing after lowering the engine into place. The oil pan was almost touching the ground. it was cut down 3-inches and the pickup tube was cut down accordingly. But, these are things you run into when you’re doing something that nobody has done.
With the engine properly fitted and the bodywork complete, it was time to finally bring some color to this project. With an absolutely beautiful Viper Red color, the chassis, roll cage, and the car was covered and cleared. Since the car was at his work due to his previous deal made with his boss, they could see his work. I guess they were impressed because once the paint job was done, Hamm was promoted to lead paint technician and paint shop manager.
Now We Can Enjoy It
Hamm now had a beautiful canvas, but he needed to power and plumb it. With the help of a Painless Wiring kit and PPE standalone harness and the help of Matt Erlandson of 12 Volt Unlimited, the car was completely wired. “Once I had the car wired, I had to custom make all of the coolant hoses, intercooler tubes, fuel lines, brake lines, etc. Considering the job, it all went together really well. Almost as if it was supposed to be this way,” Hamm explained.
Since its completion in 2013, the car has been running and driving, and he’s been enjoying every minute of it. To sum up, this car ended up with a pile of aftermarket goodies on board. These include a Chassisworks G-Machine front subframe with Varishock coilover shocks, 11-3/4-inch disc brakes, Chassisworks Eliminator II back-half frame kit w/ 2×4-inch rails, four-link suspension kit with adjustable QA1 coilovers, and a Chassisworks Fab9 axle housing with Moser case and gears.
This ’67 Rally Sport looks good too, and it’s riding on a set of 15×7 Centerline Convo Pro wheels in the front and 15×14 rears. The back wheels are wrapped with an 18.50 Hoosier Pro Street Radial tire, which makes traction easy for this hot rod. Testing the traction limits is credited to the 36,000-mile LBZ Duramax engine and its 47RH transmission.
The B&M ratchet shifter orchestrates the reverse-shift manual valve body to work with a trans brake. Other internal transmission goodies include a billet input shaft, Duraflite adapter plate, and a Duraflite torque converter. The Dodge converter had to be adapted to work with the Duramax engine.
Added performance is credited to a Danville Performance 65m BMW turbocharger, PPE 3-inch downpipe, ProFab Performance 3-inch shorty Y-Bridge, CX Racing intercooler, PPE Hot +2 ET Excelerator Programmer, and Kennedy Diesel dual CP3’s.
To keep an eye on the vital signs of the car, Hamm relies on a set of Autometer gauges. He monitors boost, pyrometer, transmission temp, and rail pressure. Other data acquisition is gained by a 6,000 rpm tachometer and PPE’s tach interface module.
It’s been years sent we’ve seen a swap this cool! What are your thoughts on this swap? To me, it isn’t your normal swap. It’s definitely outside of the normal. Let us know in the comments below. Stay tuned to Diesel Army for more truck features, part reviews, and event coverage.